True origins of Goebbels’ “total war” slogan

Like all other biographies of Joseph Goebbels, Das Goebbels Experiment, seen the other night at the Filmoteca, dates the “Wollt Ihr den totalen Krieg?” (“Do you want total war?”) call to the February 1943 Sport Palace speech/Sportpalastrede. Here is the truth, as told me by a Dutch bass player:

It is not generally known that in the early 1920s Goebbels supplemented his meagre earnings from journalism by moonlighting as a recital pianist, performing all-German programmes to concert societies nationwide, with the occasional foray into Czechoslovakia and Poland. One day the secretary of an association called him and asked if he’d come and play a selection of Scandinavian music, in which there was great interest at the time. He consented, thought no more of it, and, come the day, turned up and played Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. Afterwards he went over to the secretary to extract his fee and was somewhat disconcerted when the man flew into a rage. “I’m not paying you a penny,” he stormed. “We asked you for Scandinavian music–for Danish music, for Swedish music, and, most of all, for Norwegian music, which we love so–and you played us German music, which we have to suffer every week.” At this, Goebbels, notoriously short-tempered, and hungry to boot, lost his grip and his grammar. “Wollt Ihr dann totalen Grieg?” he shouted, and so a phrase was born.

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